Although Wolves’ unbeaten start to 2022 came to an end in the FA Cup at the weekend, attention turns back to the Premier League this evening, as Arsenal are the visitors to Molineux. Ahead of the 7.45pm kick-off there are plenty of pre-match talking points.
#1 Recharging the batteries
Before Saturday’s loss to Norwich, Wolves had gone two weeks without a competitive match due to the international break, and that time away appeared to not to have had a desired positive impact on the performance levels of Bruno Lage’s men, with a first 45-minute display that left the head coach not best pleased. However, the men in gold and black improved somewhat after half-time and created several opportunities to score in the second period, although they struggled to put the ball in the back of the net, with Daniel Podence’s effort striking the base of the post, the closest Wolves came to getting back on level terms.
Arsenal arrive at Molineux on Thursday evening without playing a game for 18 days due to being knocked out of the FA Cup in the third round, although it was a break which many with an Arsenal affiliation believed was necessary after a frustrating draw to Burnley. On 23rd January, the Gunners failed to win a home Premier League game against the side bottom of the table for the first time since October 2008. Manager Mikel Arteta described his team as “leggy” after facing the Clarets, so he’ll hope their warm-weather trip to Dubai as a team will kick new life into their top-four charge.
Going up against the Gunners next.— Wolves (@Wolves) February 8, 2022
#2 Getting straight back on the horse
Wolves enter February as the form team in the Premier League, thanks to three wins from three in January. No other team in the top-flight achieved that feat last month, earning Lage his first Premier League manager of the month award. The head coach refuses to put Wolves’ defeat against Norwich down to the supposed manager of the month curse, with Lage saying: “People were joking before the game that if I lose, I have the curse. But I don’t believe in that, what I believe in is the plan.”
However, his side face a greater test this evening with the arrival of the Gunners into the Black Country but getting straight back on the pitch after a disappointing result could be the best thing for Lage and his men. His players have not had the chance to wallow on their performance from Saturday and attention swiftly turned to tonight’s match and regaining the momentum his team had built during the opening month of 2022.
#3 Saiss is back in the pack
Having spent the last month representing and captaining Morocco at the Africa Cup of Nations, Romain Saiss was back at Wolverhampton on Monday morning as he returned to training at Compton Park and was quickly back into the swing of things with his teammates. In the forward areas, Francisco Trincao has completed a period of Covid isolation and Hee Chan Hwang has rejoined full training following injury, while Raul Jimenez played more than half-an-hour off the bench at the weekend. With Lage starting with the pairing of Daniel Podence and Fabio Silva in the last two outings, the trio give head coach more options in his attack.
However, it will be a tough decision for Lage to make regarding his left centre-back, after Toti performed admirably during his first two Premier League appearances, but with the experience of Saiss back in contention, and with Wolves not keeping a clean sheet in the top-flight since the Moroccan has been away – after conceding just twice in the previous eight, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Saiss back in the starting 11.
#4 Gunners given a boost
Without a win in their previous five matches, the winter break came at a good time for Arsenal, as it allowed Arteta’s squad to receive a much-needed rest as a threadbare squad got even thinner during the transfer window. The Gunners bid farewell to as many as six players without making any new additions, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang made his move to Barcelona late in the window, following Sead Kolasinac, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Folarin Balogun, Calum Chambers and Pablo Mari out the exit door, with nobody coming the other way, leaving the boss with a squad of just 21 players to choose from.
However, with Bernd Leno and Mohamed Elneny out and right-backs Cedric Soares and Takehiro Tomiyasu doubtful, it might be a case of centre-back Ben White shifting out to the side to cover for his injured teammates, something he performed well against Burnley more than two weeks ago. But Arsenal, currently sat two points above Wolves in the Premier League table, will have more options in their midfield this evening as Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey both return from suspension and are expected to come straight back into the starting line-up.